Lt.Col. Arapeta Awatere recieves a deserved DSO award after a meritorious number of years fighting with and Commanding 28th (Maori) Battalion from the G.O.C. of the 8th Army Lt.Gen. McCreery, mid March 1945 in North Italy near San Severino.This rare excellent image taken on this a parade day for the whole Division with rugby games played later in the day, whereby the Maoris lost its game narrowly against its 5 Brigade brother the 21st Battalion.
Lt.Col. Awatere was known to be very calm in battle and under fire, with a good knowledge of the English language both spoken and written and well able to express clearly to his Battalion platoons what was required,he epitomised the hard fighting abilties known to Maori..his nickname said it all..Chief.
As if from a time long ago his disciplinary actions to his subordinates who had been placed on a charge were quite unique..he would say to the soldier, who's justice do you want..the Army's or mine? Often the Maori soldier would courageously choose Awatere's, who would then remove his shirt and give the man a good dose of the "old school way" always allowing the recipient to "return fire".. but he always won.
Although a long performing battle field soldier of the " Maori Warrior" mould in a similar form to the US General George G Patton who was removed from command at Sicily until the June 44 D Day landings at Normandy. Awatere very late in the war over did his commanding officer status unfortunately allowing negative values into the Battalion, such as ordering.."this time take no prisoners" and also mistakenly encouraging others within his battalion to perform extreme and unnecessary "heavy handedness" towards some number of German POW prisoners being held in his custody in Northern Italy. These actions eventually being brought to the attention of the German High Command O.K.W. who made rapid official contact with British High Command in the UK. He was disciplined, released from duty and sent back to New Zealand's Egyptian home at Maadi Camp pending immediate furlough by General Freyberg and replaced by the respected Lt.Col. James Henare DSO,MID (later made Sir James) whom remained in Command of the Battalion until wars end.
I would like now to quote from a book written by a Pakeha in the 2 NZEF and friend of then Captain Peta Awatere during the North African campaign.
The book, written by 2 NZEF 27 Machine Gun Battalion Captain, Noel (Wig) Gardiner DSO, entitled "Bringing Up The Rear" published 1983.
Peta Awatere and Noel Gardiner also sat on the Auckland District Council together for 2 terms during the 1960s.
This from Chapter 14 page 97 titled.. "The Mokthar"
Many a time I went into Cairo with Peta and wandered down into places like the Mouski. He was a born linguist and it was'nt long before he was fluent in Arabic and could bargain with the gulli-gulli in their native tongue. They tell me he was the same in Italy. He was a deep thinker, and despite an air of indifference and what seemed to be a calculated veneer of ignorance which he was often inclined to adopt, he was nobody's fool. Though he consumed his share favourite Stella beer, I never saw him the worse for liquor..mind you, he did have an amazing capacity.
Though I supported the Maori Battalion on occasions with my machine gun platoon, I never fought alongside Peta. Despite his knowledge and acuteness, he was no great operator with the oilbath compass and map, as was evidenced at times when he was far from sure where he and his platoon, and later company, had holed up. He was nevertheless a fearless and outstanding soldier with few, if any peers in his battalion, as his record and decorations confirm.
Despite his outstanding attributes of impressive intellect, physique, integrity, courage and companionship, there were aspects of his Maori mind that some of us could not reach. At times he demonstrated a way of reasoning that was both mysterious and endearing to his Pakeha comrades.
Many a time he would discourse at great length on some claimed Irish ancestry which dated back to Celts of high standing, and he was most emphatic about this. Yet he was so much a Maori; as good an example of the best of his race that ever one would wish to see or meet.Such was Lt.Col. Peta Awatere, DSO.MC.
It was tragic that he should have gone to his Valhalla in the sad circumstances that surrounded his last years. A life for a life..but what sort of life? When the chips were really down, he laid his life on the line time and time again in the harsh battles that were necessary to preserve our way of life. In any final summimg-up there was so much to commend him that but one blemish could hardly outweigh the credits he had earned. The Maori race can take honour from the fact that it bred such a man..for he was assuredly all man.